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Published September 7, 2019

Though Bangla explores racial tensions and cultural divides, this film (from debut director and protagonist Phaim Bhuiyan) is a feel-good romcom full of awkward encounters and unrealistic sexual fantasies. Despite being born in Italy, Phaim, a second-generation Bangladeshi man living in Rome’s melting pot suburb, Torpignattara, struggles to reconcile his two cultures. Given his thick Roman accent, it’s difficult to imagine Phaim having trouble integrating into mainstream Italian culture, however this is part of Bangla’s comedic backdrop. Luckily, Phaim finds refuge with his other Muslim friends, who are good-humoured about their ‘cappuccino’ skin, racial slurs, and the inevitability of being mistaken for a terrorist at airports.

Phaim lives with his family, a source of both frustration and love, has a job working in a museum, and spends much of his time at band practice with his friends. In this context, his identity struggles seem manageable. It is only when the impulsive and daring Asia comes into his life that the clashes in culture begin to emerge more sharply. Though Phaim is adamant that Italian women smell strangely like pork, his attraction to Asia is immediate. Unconstrained by the religious values Phaim begins to resent, Asia drinks alcohol, has had a range of sexual experiences, and belongs to a family which is far from nuclear. Asia is as exotic to Phaim as he is to her.

Bangla depicts the difficulties of navigating a new relationship in a refreshingly humorous and sensitive way. Phaim’s attempts to create a physical distance between himself and Asia to avoid any sexual advances, are feeble and yet completely charming. Although he worries that Asia will leave him for a less complicated man, it becomes clear that his values are a strong element of his appeal. Their direct, open conversations make for a very amusing dialogue and demonstrate all the ways they are as compatible as they are different. As Phaim and Asia stumble their way through various cultural barriers, the audience becomes increasingly invested in the success of their relationship. Bangla shows that these barriers can be overcome, and that ultimately, it’s worth it in the end.

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